Health Effects

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DepressionThe Drug Policy Alliance, as part of its drug education and advocacy efforts, provides the following useful and interesting facts on cocaine:

  • While cocaine has long existed in the leaves of the coca plant indigenous to the Andes Mountains in South America, it wasn’t until 1850 that scientists were able to isolate this drug from its host plant.
  • Government surveys demonstrate that fewer than one in four people who tried cocaine once actually used it again; however, those who do use again face a high risk of addiction.
  • Earlier government research found that 17 percent of high school seniors graduating in the class of 1985 had tried cocaine, while more recent studies reveal that eight percent of high school seniors used cocaine at least once in their lifetime.
  • Crack is not the same as cocaine; it’s a smokeable drug fabricated in a chemical process involving the mixture of cocaine, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water.

One of the greatest risks of using cocaine is its addictiveness. While most people focus on addictiveness in the context of new users, this drug also carries a high risk of relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported on cocaine addiction and relapse research that shows that even after a long period abstinence, when a former cocaine abuser experiences a trigger or in some cases a memory of using this drug, powerful cravings can emerge and result in a relapse. Taking cocaine is tantamount to embarking on a slippery slope; in light of cocaine’s addictiveness, it is often difficult for users to gauge early on how addicted they can become later, and how hard it may be to attain and maintain sobriety.

Many Americans have a mental picture of cocaine drawn from its effects – talkativeness, high energy and a euphoric “anything is possible” sense. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, these effects should come as no surprise as cocaine is a strong stimulant that acts directly on the central nervous system and increases the levels of dopamine in the brain (dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of pleasure and motor functions). The additional dopamine in the brain results in the high that cocaine users experience and the jumpy behavior that the people in their company may notice.

The brain is a complex physiological phenomenon, with its own system of chemical checks and balances. Cocaine consumption upsets the brain’s balance of neurochemicals and their fine-tuned operations. With repeated use, the brain develops a tolerance to cocaine in an attempt to regulate its presence. However, repeated use of cocaine results in the need for cocaine abusers to progressively keep taking more of this drug in order to achieve the familiar highs of earlier days. The danger is that the increase in cocaine intake heightens sensitivity to the anxiety-producing and other ill effects of this drug, including full-blown psychotic symptoms. In other words, with continued exposure to cocaine, the pleasure decreases while the negative side effects and attendant dangers increase.

Genetic Factors and Treatment

doctorAnecdotal evidence about the disastrous effects of cocaine abounds. Celebrities often capture the public eye with stories of great financial and professional losses associated with cocaine abuse and addiction. Actor Gary Busey’s cocaine experience, as the Huffington Post reports, was no exception to the generally abysmal experience celebrities often have with this drug. As Busey shares with the Huffington Post, he soon became addicted to cocaine after the first time he tried it. Busey may be an example of one of the many Americans genetically prone to addiction, and in his case, using cocaine was an experience that triggered the expression of the so-called “addiction gene.”

According to the American Psychological Association, at least 50 percent of a person’s vulnerability to drug addiction is based on genetic factors. As research into the causes of addiction develops, more effective prevention measures and treatment options will develop. While environmental factors do matter, addiction scientists and researchers hope to develop genetic tests to determine who has a propensity for addiction before an addiction even begins.

Existing research on addiction and genes suggests that the dopamine receptor in the brain known as D2 may one day be used to predict whether a person will become addicted to alcohol, cocaine, or heroin if exposed to these drugs. Genes determine a person’s number of D2 receptors. Research of brain images shows that people who have fewer D2 dopamine receptors are more likely to become addicted than people who have more. In the future, a test for genetic vulnerability to addiction may prove to be one of the best prevention efforts known to the war on drugs.

If you, or a loved one, are abusing cocaine, we can help you locate a treatment center that provides expert rehab services on point with your needs. Although cocaine abuse has likely resulted in your, or your loved one’s, life feeling chaotic, we are here to help you find your way to the next step of recovery– getting specialized treatment.


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